Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin' to sell
-- Bob Dylan

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Another anti-teacher film backed by Anschutz

Major studio films with celebrity stars have become the latest weapon of choice in the war against teachers and public education. It all began with Waiting for Superman and will be followed-up with the September screening of  Won't Back Down, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal as a parent and Viola Davis as a teacher who work together to organize support for a petition to overhaul the school and resuscitate it academically. The more than obvious parallel here is with the so-called Parent Trigger scheme which enables a small group of petition-signing parents to turn a public school over to private operating companies.

Both films are bankrolled by borderline fascist billionaire Philip Anschutz, an anti-union fanatic whose homophobic views would make Chick-Fil-A owner Don Cathy blush.

Anschutz' ownership of The Washington Examiner, a daily tabloid, and The Weekly Standard, probably the nation’s most influential conservative magazine, provide the outlet for his extremist views on taxes, national security and President Barack Obama that the 130 or so companies he owns don't.

Anschutz' propaganda films are slick and sophisticated. But we did a decent job of debunking WFS. I look forward to even stronger critiques of WBD.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Media Matters nails WSJ and ALEC on "Parent Trigger"

According to Media Matters:
The Wall Street Journal this morning failed to report ties between the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and controversial "parent-trigger" legislation that would allow parents to take over and convert public schools to charter schools. They also failed to report that the Journal's parent company, News Corp, is a member of ALEC. The Journal's treatment of the legislation also cited no criticism of the proposal, which has been described as an effort "to manipulate parents into letting [the charter school lobby] privatize more public schools."
WSJ's parent company, New Corp. is owned by international publishing criminal Rupert Murdoch whose chief henchman is Joel Klein. Klein, the former New York City schools chancellor, is recognized as one of the godfathers of corporate school reform and school privatization.

The MM piece quotes Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, who calls the parent trigger "an underhanded trick by the charter lobby to manipulate parents into letting them privatize more public schools."

Monday, July 23, 2012

Weekly Reader goes belly-up after being bought by Scholastic, Inc.

Scholastic Inc., which bought the Weekly Reader from Readers Digest only last February, has announced that it is ending publication of the 110-year-old student magazine. Subscriptions to WR have fallen steadily since it was reported to have 7 million in 2002. At that time, many of its writers were former teachers. Much of this drop can be attributed to decreased school budgets and to the swing away from printed matter to online reading in schools. By folding WR into Scholastic, the company hopes to increase its profitability by firing 55 of 60 Weekly Reader employees

My only question is, without the WR, will Scholastic still be able to disseminate coal industry propaganda to influence young minds, as it did back in May?

New video exposes ALEC's ed task force

 Here's a great tool you can use in meetings and classrooms to educate about ALEC's role in privatizing public schools, curriculum and testing. The video has a good critique of cyber-schools, the Virtual Schools Act currently being pushed in several states by ALEC,  and companies like, K12 Inc. which are making millions in profits even while being currently under federal investigation.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cyber schooling could be one the great scams of our time

New study shows cyber kids falling behind
"Children who enroll in a K12 Inc.cyberschool, who receive full-time instruction in front of a computer instead of in a classroom with a live teacher and other students, are more likely to fall behind in reading and math." -- Gary Miron, NEPC fellow
Two stories on cyber-learning caught my eye this past week. The first had to do with the closing of a privately-run cyber charter school in Pennsylvania, due to financial mismanagement. According to the July 10th Edweek story, the state then issued charters to 4 other new cyber-charters.

The second story was about last week's FBI raid on  the office of Pennsylvania Charter Cyber School founder Nick Trombetta, who is suspected of misusing Pennsylvania tax dollars to fund his out-of-state ventures. The FBI raided the administrative offices of PA Cyber and other ventures founded by Trombetta, including the Avanti Management Group -- a for-profit consultant firm based in Ohio.

But the topper is the release this morning of a new report by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado which shows that students at K12 Inc., the nation’s largest virtual school company, are falling further behind in reading and math scores than students in brick-and mortar schools. These virtual schools students are also less likely to remain at their schools for the full year, and the schools have low graduation rates.

“Our in-depth look into K12 Inc. raises enormous red flags,” said NEPC Director Kevin Welner.

Duncan and K12 founder Bennett
K12 was started by Republican operative and former Sec. of Education William Bennett but the company was forced to remove Bennett as chairman of its directors following a series of racist remarks and gambling scandals which threatened the company's marketability. K12 Inc. has been under investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, which has been looking into K12's involvement in a project that received an improper multimillion-dollar grant from the Department of Education during Bennett's tenure at the firm.

I posted twice last December about K12's financial problems, it's plummeting stock prices and the company's huge executive salaries. About the same time came a New York Times story by Stephanie Saul, "Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools", which called out K-12, not on its stock prices, but on how badly its "portfolio schools" like Agora Cyber Charter School are doing.

Back in 2010, I posted on my SmallTalk blog about the connections between K12 founder William Bennett and Ed Sec. Arne Duncan. 
Now, thanks to the NEPC report, we can see the connection between all this dirty cyber dealing and its negative impact of student learning.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Romney's version of corporate socialism

Anthony Gardner, writing for Bloomberg, reports that Mitt Romney's specialty during his years at Bain Capital, was privatizing gains and socializing investment losses. 
What’s clear from a review of the public record during his management of the private-equity firm Bain Capital from 1985 to 1999 is that Romney was fabulously successful in generating high returns for its investors. He did so, in large part, through heavy use of tax-deductible debt, usually to finance outsized dividends for the firm’s partners and investors. When some of the investments went bad, workers and creditors felt most of the pain. Romney privatized the gains and socialized the losses.
The report describes Romney's style of "casino capitalism" that produced quick profits for big investors but led to the destruction and bankruptcy of companies like Accuride, Ampad and Dade with thousands of workers losing their jobs and whole communities, including schools and public services being destroyed. When Bain's investment's went south, which they did about 40% of the time, the big losers were often public pensions, including teachers pension funds, whose boards, according to another Bloomberg report, had  "political ties and sensitivities."

According to Gardner:
While Bain Capital wasn’t alone in using financial engineering to turbo-charge its returns, it was among the most aggressive under Romney’s leadership. Enriching investors by taking leveraged bets isn’t a qualification for a job requiring long-term vision and concern for public welfare. It is appropriate to point that out to voters.

Friday, July 13, 2012

New Michigan dictatorship privatizes entire school district

Now that Michigan's T-Party Gov. Rick Snyder has been given the power of a fascist dictator over the state's impoverished cities and towns, one of the first things he's going after is public education. First stop -- struggling Muskegon Heights, where Snyder has already replaced the elected city government with a hand picked business czar. The czar, Don Weatherspoon, has now decided to turn the entire public school system over to a for-profit company, Mosaica Education, Inc.

NPR reports:
So far, the details of the contract with Mosaica are still secret. Though the document was approved in an open meeting, it wasn't available to the public, and attorneys refused to share the information with reporters; basic information like how much money the district will pay Mosaica.
I have been following Mosaica, which operates more than 90 schools across the country and in India, since they ran into trouble for mismanaging a school near New Orleans. The Louisiana dispute led to arbitration. In the end, Mosaica was forced to pay $350,000 in damages. Then there was this cheating scandal in D.C. and that mess with the management of King High School in Philly.

The company already operates six Michigan charter schools, five of which fall below the 20th percentile on the state's ranking of schools. One school is at the 26th percentile.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Best yet on Boston Consulting Group

I hadn't seen this amazing post by B-Town Errant, from May 18th, until Diane Ravitch passed it around today. It's an solid piece of power-structure research on the favorite consulting group of the Ownership Society, BCG. I have written about them at length and so has Diane, Daniel Denvir, Philly Notebook and others. But if you take a deep breath and work your way through this one, you can put it all together.

By it, I mean the grand conspiracy against public schools. No, I'm not a conspiracy theorist. But you don't have to be one to see one.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Boston Consulting Group -- Engineers of school privatization

CEO Hans-Paul Buerkner of BCG.
Where Romney got his start

They're the Bain Capital of public education. Politically connected Boston Consulting Group consultants are paid million of dollars, much of it from public funds that might ordinarily be used to fund public education. Instead they are financing the dismantling of public education, mainly in urban school systems, responsible for the education of primarily poor kids and children of color. BCG can take credit for the ongoing replacement of these public institutions with networks of private education management companies operating charter schools, distance learning companies, and tutoring programs.

With 4,800 consultants in 74 offices in 42 countries, the firm ranks as one of America's Largest Private Companies, according to Forbes magazine. BCG's consultants include notables such as Mitt Romney, Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi; Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric; Sally Blount, dean of the Kellogg School of Management; and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Romney and Netanyahu became close associates while both were consulting for the group and Romney was recruited to Bain Capital directly out of BCG.

Romney & Netanyahu at BCG
Former Ed Secretary and architect of NCLB, Margaret Spellings who currently operates something called the Campaign for Free Enterprise, is a senior BCG advisor. Kermit King, who played a major role in bankrolling anti-gay legislation in California is one of BCG's leading consultants.

The group was also brought into Chicago by Arne Duncan and the Gates Foundation in 2008 to design the failed high school reform and school privatization component of Mayor Daley's Renaissance 2010. Duncan continues to involve BCG in his Race To The Top initiative.

In Philadelphia, BCG has been deeply involved in nearly every hot-button issue faced by the District, including continued expansion of charter schools. After decades of this corporate-style reform however, there is no evidence that BCG's work has produced any better outcomes for students or for the communities in which they live. 

According to a report in Huffington,
BCG has identified up to 60 Philadelphia school buildings as potential candidates for closure and helped line up private vendors willing to replace the School District's unionized blue-collar workforce at a $50 million discount. The broad scope of BCG's efforts this spring are detailed in previously unreleased "statements of work" obtained by the Notebook/NewsWorks under Pennsylvania's Right to Know law. 
But in Philly, where BCG is credited with identifying some $122 million in "achievable savings," the result has been an even larger and rapidly growing budget deficit, now estimated at around $282 million. 

Documents obtained Friday by the Notebook/NewsWorks outline the complex relationship connecting BCG with the William Penn Foundation and United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania. William Penn has directly contributed $1.5 million and helped raise $1.2 million more to fund BCG's work, and United Way has served as a fiscal conduit for those funds.

In separate interviews Friday, top leaders from William Penn and United Way lauded BCG's work and dismissed as "conspiracy theory" the claims by some critics that the firm and the private philanthropists supporting its work are part of a coordinated effort to privatize the city's public education system.

I'm one of those critics who believes there really is such a conspiracy.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Money talks in Philly schools new privatization plan

Jeremy Nowak
Excellent piece by Daniel Denvir in City Paper, "Money Talks", reveals the big money behind Philly's plan to dismantle the Philadelphia School District and potentially put public schools under private management. The power broker behind the plan is Jeremy Nowak, chief executive of the William Penn Foundation. The foundation had given $1.45 million directly — and helped obtain at least $1.2 million more — to pay the Boston Consulting Group to develop a so-called “Blueprint” for restructuring the troubled district. 
"There’s family money out there,” says Nowak, and “it’s new money.” William Penn “may have been fourth or fifth on the list 10 or 12 years ago. We’re now first on the list. We don’t want to be first on the list. We want five other guys our size.”
Writes Denvir:
That new money generated in the service economy from Silicon Valley to Wall Street, has already funded a sea change in national philanthropy. And three major new-money foundations — Bill and Melinda Gates, Eli and Edythe Broad and the Walton Family foundations — have, like Nowak, focused their largesse on remaking American public education. Over the past decade, the big three have established themselves as the nation’s most important education funders, and they’ve become among its most powerful policy makers, too. They set an agenda: in support of charter schools and high-stakes standardized tests.
“They are imposing all of these steps to supposedly hold teachers accountable, but in the meantime the people who are coming up with the metrics and the management techniques have no public accountability whatsoever,” says Alice O’Connor, a professor at University of California Santa Barbara who studies philanthropy and public education. “And that’s really, really scary.” 
So how deep does the influence of these foundations run in our public education systems? It’s almost too far to plumb. Considered alongside the network of well-funded conservative organizations that openly seek to privatize public-education, it could be overwhelming.